I have no idea what this place smells like. My olfactory sense has been wholly debilitated by nasal congestion from the moment I arrived in Bethel. What may have started as the sniffles at JVC Northwest Orientation never cleared itself from my system. I have single-nosedly worked through a few boxes of tissues, single-throatedly swallowed two packages of lozenges, and single-mouthedly consumed hundreds of glasses of tea. And to no avail. The sneezing, coughing, and sniffy-tawking persisted. At various points in the last few weeks I have blamed: the water, my suddenly fresh fruit and vegetable-less diet, working at a school filled with germ-drenched students, the dust from the mud roads, allergens from the tundra flora, my houseful of (healthy) roommates, and any other reason I could surmise.
The congestion that had begun to seem like a permanent feature in my Alaskan existence transformed into a more ferocious beast. By the middle of this past week, I was wholly convinced that an unknown army had invaded my skull and was now busy inflicting repeated blunt force trauma to the backs of my cheeks, behind my eyes, and even against the gums of my top teeth. On the walk home, with each step I could feel the troops being rallied with a swift knock of my ear drum. By the time I trudged home, I had, without a doubt, crossed through no man's land and surrendered to the mighty interior forces. It was a unpleasant but unavoidable reminder that my stubborn denial of obvious symptoms will eventually become undeniable.
I burst through the door of our arctic entry, ripped off my muddy boots and damp windbreaker, and tried to make it upstairs to my little nook of a bedroom without running into any roommates. I knew they would be concerned about my grimace and I didn't want to explain myself. A few of them greeted me warmly and asked me about my day. I did not pause but on the way up the stairs told them I needed to rest for awhile and promised I would be in better spirits next time they saw me. I popped a couple of ibuprofen, prostrated myself on the twin mattress until I realized that upside down the pressure in my face only intensified to an unbearable degree. So I flipped over on my back and sobbed for five minutes or so, and then fell into deep sleep. It was probably around six or six-fifteen. I woke up the next morning, just a few minutes before seven. I had tremendous dreams. These are worthy of attention at some point, here or elsewhere.
As readers of the Firenze blog may recall, when I first arrived in Italy, I was struck with a similar bout and recovered by taking a similar sleep. Sadly, this time I had let things go a few weeks too far, and it was obvious some medical intervention besides sleeping in twelve-hour increments would be required. So today I waved my stubborn-colored flag of surrender and went to the the health clinic in town. It is located approximately five-hundred feet from the school where I work and in such close proximity I was struck with guilt for having taken the day off although I knew well enough that I would have been nearly useless in my dizzy, feverish state. Upon very quick inspection, the doctor determined I have a double ear infection and a sinus infection and put me on (non-penicillin!) antibiotics. My longstanding distaste for taking pills remains, but as I write this now, I feel some of the pressure easing up, and I am enormously grateful. Wondrous smells may await me. I will be able to breathe out of my nose again. I will be able to taste. I will use far fewer tissues. I will be able to speak to students in my own voice, not the nasally one I've been borrowing for weeks.
So why do I inflict this harrowing although rather ordinary account upon you, dear reader? I share with you all these viscous details because all my impressions of this place so far have been collected with flawed instruments. My itchy eyes were not as wide-open, my short breaths made my walks significantly less invigorating, my numb taste buds failed to pick up on the subtle flavors in the berries and fish, and my clogged ears haven't been absorbing this new language or the roar of the float planes as well as they could have.
I spent most of the past spring in a scholastic spurt trying to manipulate the idea that body as body is already soul. In my first Alaskan month, whether it was in a dull ache in my chest after a long coughing spell, in the sting of my tissue-chapped nostrils, or in bedtime appraisal of my tense joints, I recognized that I was living out my argument. Not for a moment since that plane flew me through the gray clouds, swooped over the Crayola-colored roofs, and skidded down on a runway that will soon be a sheet of ice, has my heart been different than my head. My cough has originated not in my lungs as such, but rather in my air, in my spirit.
So now I am praying to those white pills that have dissolved into my blood and will pump through me as I dream tonight. I long to heal. To be of body that will let the soul in and out now. To let me be here and take appreciative rather than apprehensive breaths. To let me regain my senses and my sense of well-being. Please let this battle be neither won nor lost but dissolved and absorbed.